The Blue Wave chase a lot of history this year: No CIAC team has made four state title games in a row in almost 20 years, and none in Division I in almost 30; no one has won three in a row since 1979-81. And after three spectacular seasons, Darien has its work cut out for it, graduating many of the key players in that run and working in lots of inexperienced players.
Coach Mac Budd still has skilled power forward Max Romeyn back, one of his senior captains along with defenseman Harry Congdon and speedy forward Tom Sulger. Alex Kostrzewski and Colby Ravosa, seniors as well, bring experience.
Senior goalie Brendan Bumgardner played well last season and takes over as the No. 1.
EAST CATHOLIC (7-14-0)
New coach Joe Trenholm played for former coach Drew Clarkin and was an assistant for the past three years, so he knows all about the school’s tradition.
Helping out: The Eagles have three key defensemen and their starting goalie returning, and lots of underclassmen have a chance to play lots, improve and help immediately.
On defense, senior Brandon Lariviere, sophomore Zack Henkin and junior transfer Jack Williams protect the net of senior Joe Sitarz, who had a .912 save percentage last season. Colombo DiSalvatore, Brady Batman and Chris O’Connor, all seniors, lead the way up front.
FAIRFIELD PREP (12-10-2)
The Jesuits bounced back from an off year — funny as that is to say for the state’s top program — with coach Matt Sather and staff rearranging their lineup to shore up some thin spots, winning their conference and reaching the Division I final.
They’ll have to replace a lot of scoring, but they have a lot of players returning, including goalies Chris Ligas, a senior, and Jack McGee, a junior. Senior co-captain Chris Brown, senior Marc Pinto and juniors Cole Casl and Matt Kernaghan return on defense.
Co-captains Brennan Henry and Jack Cavanaugh bring experience at forward, and Devin Blanchette scored 14 points last year as a sophomore. The Jesuits will also rely on juniors Skyler Celotto, Ryan Eckert, Carter Kral, Joey Mancini and Kevin Oricoli.
Coach Ken Barse’s Tomahawks have established themselves in the hunt just about every year. They’ll have to step up this year, though; without as much depth as in past seasons, everyone will need to play more minutes.
It’ll help to have Griffin Jagel, an experienced senior, back in goal. He’ll get help from senior defensemen Josh Ginnett, Joe Deluca and Nate Amaral.
They’ll have some scoring to replace, but a group returns up front that includes seniors Trevor Suydam, Tanner Walker, Cam Rapoza and Christian Mack to go with junior Drew Rousseau.
They were one goal away from a state championship two years ago; last year, the Cardinals were conference champions. They’ve graduated a bunch of key players from those teams, and they have a new coach as well: Chris Rurak takes over from Bob Russel.
Rurak will reply on his captains, who’ve played key roles over the past few seasons and step up this year. They include winger Alex Mozian, a junior with size and speed who has contributed before. Seniors Akira Dunham, a good skater, and Owen Johnson, who brings speed and grit, will also be leaders.
NEW CANAAN (10-12-0)
The Rams were young last year and struggled early. They grew up and went 8-3 in the back half of their regular season. Coach Pat Gore has 16 players back from that team, and that has caught the attention of several other coaches.
The experience begins in New Canaan’s own end, where seniors Peter Windas and Liam Mooney have split time in goal the past three years. Senior Drew Morris has been a four-year starter on defense.
Senior Tyler Hill returns off a 12-goal season. Senior power forward George McMahon scored 10 goals last season, and junior playmaker Brooks Gammill had 13 points. They’ll add senior transfer Anton Adding to the group of forwards.
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC (16-7-0)
Coach Don Melanson’s Lions knocked on the door last year, their third season in Division I. Off a good season, they’ll need to replace a lot of their defense; playing well defensively as a team will be important, but senior Anthony Giannone and junior Drew Hungerford will be leaders on the back end.
There’s plenty of offense returning for Northwest Catholic, though, including a couple of 50-point scorers: Senior centerman Anthony Ceolin scored 33 goals; left winger Ryan Sherba scored 23. Senior centerman Tucker Alissi had a 30-point season, and junior right winger Paul Arel had a strong sophomore year.
Sophomore goalie Cal Skwara comes in from the Connecticut Chiefs program.
The Tigers were disappointed with their start last year but finished well, taking Greenwich to double overtime in the state tournament. It helped having a goalie like Sean Keegans, returning for his senior year off a .920 save percentage last season. They’ll miss goalie Rian Stewart, though, who’s out injured.
There’s lots of experience on defense, led by senior Jack McGeary and junior Ty Fujitani, for coach Shaun Gallagher.
Seniors Jack Stafford, Matteo van Wees and Jeff Pracella and sophomore Nick Cullinan return and should be key contributors as forwards. Landon Byers and Jonas Chang join the program as seniors.
SUFFIELD/GRANBY/WINDSOR LOCKS (15-6-1)
The Wildcats’ first season back in Division I went well, and coach Nick Boorman hopes hard work keeps things rolling for the co-op. It does have several key players returning. On defense, senior Craig Montemerlo comes back off a 21-point season, with classmate Vincent Breda and sophomore Ryan Antkowiak joining him.
Seniors Jake Bourdeau, Austin Rupp and Brendan Looney all have either 73 or 74 career points. Senior Jack Antkowiak is another important forward. Several young players are expected to step into key roles.
WEST HAVEN (7-13-1)
The Blue Devils’ numbers may be down, but they’ve got goaltending as usual, it seems, and coach Joe Morrell expects the Westies to work hard.
In net, senior Brendan Sorenson and junior Logan Cole bring their own styles but got the job done last year. They’re back. Senior defenseman Alex Lynch will contribute again offensively, and seniors Jerry Maus and Kyle Froehlich add an edge on defense.
Senior Peter Richetelli, a “spark plug” for Morrell, had 31 points last year. Senior Max Lynch and juniors E.J. Pacapelli and Collin Braziel are other top forwards.
The Falcons went out in hard-fought fashion deep in the playoffs the past two years, the semifinals two seasons ago and the quarters last year. The good news is coach Dan DeConti’s team has its goalie back and most of its defense. It’ll have to replace most of its offense, though.
The strengths are certainly strong. Senior goalie Jared Guidobono is well-experienced and has played well. The defense in front of him includes seniors Brett Reid and Ryan Child.
Seniors Austin Reid and Mike Agruso will lead the forwards, and sophomore newcomers Trevor Early and Chase Maxwell are among the youngsters expected to contribute.
NOTRE DAME-FAIRFIELD (10-12-0)
The Lancers have Bill Scovill back in net; he’s a senior now. That’ll help on a team that is young, but one that coach Steve Hetherman feels has good chemistry.
Senior Brian Gallagher returns at forward, as does junior Jason Ziegler on defense. A host of newcomers and returning players will fill in the gaps left by those who’ve departed.
After a big year that ended with their second Division II title in four years, the Mustangs have moved up to Division I. They do so with a new head coach: Tom Roche had been commuting from out of state last season, and assistant Carl Larouche takes the reins.
The graduates include the starting goalie, top defenseman and a couple of top forwards, but some young players were involved in the run last year, like senior forwards Anthony Beccaria and Garreth Gacetta and junior forward Will Von Brauchitsch.
The defense should be strong with seniors Calvin Sharp and Ryan Gove and junior Rutger Gaillard returning to a young team.
ST. JOSEPH (13-11-1)
After J.R. Bria resigned, the Cadets have a new coach, Eddy LeMaire, who was an assistant under Marty Crouse in the program’s early days.
The team was a surprise FCIAC finalist last season, backboned by all-conference goalie Ryan Wilson, who returns as a junior. Captains Andrew Van Etten, a defenseman with lots of potential, and Will Foldesi, a power forward, will lead the team, and junior defenseman Andrew Gilbert gives the Cadets a big two-way presence on defense.
Forward Adam Usinger departed for Kent.
The Green Dragons hung in throughout the first season under Todd Hall, former assistant coach and onetime standout player before a pro career. After eking its way into the playoffs, Hamden then went on a postseason run to the state semifinals.
A slew of key seniors have departed, but the Dragons have always seemed to find players to fill holes.
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN (15-8-1)
The Green Knights’ emotional season took them to the state semifinals before they fell to eventual champion Darien; they’d also fallen in a shootout in the SCC championship against Fairfield Prep.
Though the core of that team was heavy on seniors, coach Tim Belcher had a few underclassmen chipping in who’ll return a year stronger. Forward leaders will be Vincent Paolillo, Matt Muro, Dylan Monaghan, Ian Hayden, Greg Caturano and Matt Ciaburro.
Defense looks good with the likes of Zach Dumas, Kevin Millea, Liam Hylton and Tommy Driscoll. Liam Connell looks to take over the goaltending duties.
The Trojans had a strong season end suddenly in overtime in the first round of the state tournament. There were more than a few younger players contributing to that season. Simsbury goes into the year with a new coach after Tom Cross stepped down; Chris Day, who has been with the program since 2009, takes over.